By Rotimi Fasan
UNTIL about three weeks ago Sunday Adeyemo, a.k.a. Sunday Igboho was known only in certain closed political or cultural circles. Except for those he had to work with directly, his celebrity was firmly locked within the Yoruba regional space. But that now looks like ages ago.
Sunday Igboho’s name now rings a bell in the most exclusive circles in Nigeria. No day goes by without something being said or written about him. He is the favourite newsmaker in Nigeria today, not the least for the sheer sensationalism of what is daily reported about him within and outside the country.
The entire saga of Sunday Igboho, his sudden rise from relative obscurity to national and international prominence, attests to the fickle manner fame is conferred on many Nigerians. It is the stuff of fairy tale, the kind of celebrity that is in the present time most often reserved for aficionados of reality shows of the Big Brother, The Voice and the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria variety.
No thanks to a government, in fact a president, who looks on as a minor sore becomes gangrenous, Sunday Igboho would probably still be minding his car dealership or any other business he does to keep body and soul together. But in the last six years President Muhammadu Buhari has looked on and simply said next to nothing as Nigerians across different parts of the country lamented the carnage being brought upon their neighbourhood and communities by marauders masquerading as cattle herders. There is no reason to believe that the majority of the harmless, staff-wielding Fulani, have suddenly transformed into the AK-47 terrorists of today.
Yes, there could be a handful of them who with the collaboration of other locals (Yoruba, Tiv or Igbo) now find the business of kidnapping for ransom, rape and murder, more rewarding than herding cattle due to the apparent failure of the APC-led government to offer any full-throated condemnation of it. But it would be stretching fact to believe that the average Fulani herder is a blood-thirsty hound in the manner of those of them that have led to the profiling of an ethnic group.
Let those who wish continue to shy away from the truth, which is that Buhari’s resolute silence in the face of reports of herdsmen menace across Nigeria, his serial acts of omission to take an unambiguous stand on the reported recklessness of so-called herders and the outrageous comments from managers of the umbrella unions of Fulani cattle herders, is the reason why Nigeria is today on the brink of a war as Wole Soyinka has warned.
Perception is everything. Buhari has done next to nothing to erase the perception that he is a Fulani revanchist. If anything, he has frequently doubled down on the very things that have made many critical of him. What is happening today is not new. For ages farmers and herders have clashed. They have been engaged in skirmishes as is to be expected among people with divergent interests amid scarce resources. Nor is Buhari the first Fulani ever to be at the helm of this country’s rulership.
From Nigeria’s First Republic right to just about ten years ago when Nigeria had its last Fulani leader before Buhari in the person of Umar Yar’Adua, none has had the ethnic tag so firmly foisted on them as Buhari.
Yes, Nigeria has grappled with issues of ethnicity, religion and gender before now. But those issues have become very polarising under the APC-led government of the last six years, not so much for what Buhari has done as for what he has failed to do. Come to think of it, President Buhari, other than the incident that brought him to Lam Adesina in the early days of our current experiment with democracy, when he reportedly fumed about the manner his “people” were allegedly killed during a clash between Yoruba farmers and Fulani cattle herders- save this incident, Buhari has not in the fewest words said anything to express open support for the activities of the marauding herders as opposed to the legitimate ones. Not one word said! But neither has he said any word in condemnation.
Considering the perceived victims of these attacks are the farming communities, Buhari’s silence has been more eloquent than anything he could have said. It suggests complicity, especially as the security agencies are believed to have taken their cue from the President’s attitude by taking sides with the putative aggressor.
Buhari is the leader of the country and no matter what he or anybody else may think, that no matter what he says or does he would be condemned by critical Nigerians. He should be seen to have done his bit.
That is what a leader does. He should be heard to say that he does not support any brigandage by any section of the country, including his own Fulani people. It is not a crime that he is Fulani, and he could not be expected to deny his ethnicity just so he could be seen as a patriot. But for the sake of his people and the very human belief that an individual would naturally be partial to members of their own ethnic or biological family, etc., President Buhari ought to have been more sensitive to the concerns of other Nigerians who have complained about the negative activities of Fulani herders.
From Benue to Taraba, Enugu to Anambra, Edo to Delta, Ekiti to Osun and now Ondo and Oyo, Buhari has stayed put inside Aso Rock Villa, said no word either way of the controversy. But his political minders and spokespersons hiding behind the veneer of “the Presidency”, a synonym in some cases for the President, have not wasted time in hauling broadsides at anyone bold enough to take on the Fulani, self-servingly quoted from the Constitution about the right of every Nigerian to live anywhere they choose, including perhaps, herding cattle on other people’s farms.
With such quick response comments from within “the presidency”, there is no way to convince non-Fulani Nigerians that the President is not partial. Thus, when the likes of Sunday Igboho resort to self-help it becomes difficult to fault their moves which they claim to make for self-preservation.
The APC-led Federal Government has painted itself into a corner, forfeited the right to act in the manner it should against “non-state actors” by its complicit silence in the last few years during which the Fulani, supposedly basking in the euphoria of a president of Fulani extraction, had grown both more restive and aggressive.
Having eaten more than their fair share of sour grapes, the cattle Fulani teeth are now set on edge and the Nigerian government is lost for the appropriate action to take.